Swift and angry backlash against D’Arcy McGee MNA’s vote for Bonjour-Hi resolution

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By Joel Goldenberg, The Suburban Jun 12, 2019

D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum voted along with fellow Quebec Liberals, the Parti Québécois and the governing CAQ in encouraging Montreal merchants to drop the “Hi” in the now-traditional Bonjour-Hi greeting.

Be sure to read below: In my opinion

The vote, proposed by the PQ, came in advance of Grand Prix weekend, when numerous tourists, including many who do not speak French, visit Montreal.

Liberal MNAs Kathleen Weil and Gregory Kelley were not present for the symbolic vote. Weil told the media she stayed away after receiving numerous complaints from constituents after voting for the same motion in 2017.

Birnbaum provided an extensive explanation for his vote on Facebook. The MNA said the wording of the resolution was acceptable to him, and it passed unanimously in terms of all MNAs present in the Assembly.

“Here is why I chose to rise for the vote….verrrry slowly,” he wrote. “English-speaking Quebecers, whether they live in Snowdon, Sillery or Sherbrooke, have a stake in supporting the protection and promotion of the French language. We are allies, not enemies in that cause— it’s time that this be recognized by all parties, as it is by ours.”

Birnbaum also contended that the CAQ government “has failed to take the slightest concrete measure to truly strengthen the place of French in Quebec — by increasing spending, as our government did, on francisation programs for new immigrants, by supporting English school boards in their constant efforts to improve French-second language programs (the CAQ plans to abolish the board), and in calling for the inclusion of all Quebecers in the legitimate and necessary effort of French-language promotion.”

There was much reaction to Birnbaum’s vote.

Harold Staviss, who with CSL councillor Ruth Kovac has been lobbying businesses to put up bilingual signs and send out bilingual communications to consumers, was very displeased.

“Do our MNAs have nothing better to do?” he wrote on Facebook. “What a joke! Three cheers and kudos to Kathleen Weil and Gregory Kelley for standing up for those that elected them. At least two Liberals stood up for their constituents. But with all due respect to David Birnbaum and Jennifer Maccarone, you let us down big time. I urge you all to show both David and Jennifer your total disgust for what they did. E-mail them, call them, use social media.”

Kovac herself sent a note to Birnbaum, which she shared with The Suburban, announcing that she is withdrawing her Quebec Liberal Party membership as well as her seat on the D’Arcy McGee riding association.

“We have discussed this issue on more than one occasion,” she added. “As an MNA, in my opinion, you are elected by the people and responsible first to them, irrespective of parliamentary duties. The 2017 backlash should have guided your vote this time. This vote was a resolution, not legislation! It is the English and multi- ethnic population that elected you, not a small Francophone town in a rural area.”

Kovac also wrote that Bill 101 and the OQLF “have never been about promoting French, but pushing for a slow and painful death of anything English.

“Having worked in different businesses before becoming a councillor, we know that it is the language of the customer that is paramount. This was an opportunity where you could have easily risen slowly or quickly with true vigour and represented D’Arcy McGee.

“I suspect that I speak for many.”

Former Côte St. Luc councillor Glenn Nashen responded to Birnbaum on Facebook

“To be inclusive, forward looking and positive… sure,” he wrote. “To respect, promote and master the French language? Absolutely. To interfere with private conversations between private business and private citizens? Not the role of our parliamentarians. As you rightly point out, French is as healthy as ever in Montreal. No need to suppress the English language.”

CSL council regular Toby Shulman wrote: “I am calling my MNA. He has lost my vote.”

joel@thesuburban.com

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In my opinion:

While I an upset about the motion in the National Assembly, I don’t believe that David Birnbaum’s ‘reluctant’ vote in favour makes him unworthy as a representative of the English-speaking community, as expressed by some others. Now I’m no apologist for anyone, however politics isn’t a zero sum game. I believe in measuring a leader by the overall good he or she does for the community. I’m really not pleased with David’s decision to vote in favour of this resolution. I would have preferred that he cast a vote against, as difficult as that would have been for him. It would have sent a much stronger message than rising slowly, in my opinion. But, one cannot erase the many good choices David has made as our MNA. So I do think anyone who’s upset should let him know. It is only through these many contacts that any MNA can better represent us on the next resolution. Too often people are quick to criticize on single issues, disregarding a history of achievement.

National Assembly again urges merchants to drop use of “Bonjour-Hi” | Montreal Gazette

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Montreal Gazette, June 7, 2019 – I have great respect for my MNA, David Birnbaum, and I believe he is doing an excellent job in representing our riding. However, we differ in approach on this thorny subject.

In responding to Birnbaum’s explanation for his cautious support of the non-binding resolution in the National Assembly today, posted to Facebook, I wrote:  

To be Inclusive, forward-looking and positive? Sure. To respect promote and master the French language? Absolutely. To interfere with private conversation between private business and private citizens? Not the role of our parliamentarians. As you rightly point out, French is as healthy as ever in Montreal. No need to suppress the English language.

Impassioned MP Housefather vigorously defends minority language rights in House of Commons

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“Many in Quebec’s English-speaking community wonder whether anyone ever speaks up for them,” said Mount Royal Member of Parliament Anthony Housefather. “I have spoken out for minority language rights my whole life and do so in the House of Commons as well.”

This video of Housefather’s back and forth with the Bloc Québécois shows just how impassioned the MP is when debating a proposed bill that would give English-speaking Quebecers in the federal civil service fewer rights to work in their language than any other civil servant in Canada.

“In this video my vision of Canada comes out loudly and clearly in both official languages,” Housefather said.

Thank you, Anthony, for always standing up for your constituents and all Canadians, especially on matters of linguistic rights and basic human rights. You are a formidable representative, a masterful spokesperson.

 

Suburban exclusive: Quebec in process of changing French-only highway signs to pictograms: Fortin

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Very proud of my friends and colleagues Ruth Kovac, Harold Staviss and David Birnbaum on this important step forward. My readers will recall my many posts and communications with various ministries and agencies of the Quebec government, as well as the city of Montreal (notably the Fire Department) demanding that messages pertaining to public safety be in both French and English, as permitted by the oppressive and dreaded Charter of the French language. Many of these communiques received a polite we’ll look into it with little action or follow up.

The case of the highway road signs proclaiming completely unintelligible warning messages to any non-French-speaker were particularly unjust and illogical. Search my blog for these posts and pictures.

Well, thanks to perseverance and determination of Ruth and Harold they pushed and hounded, and engaged the assistance of our duty-bound MNA, David. The result is favourable in terms of agreeing to pictograms, unfortunately not bilingual signs, but the work is still to be done by the ministry. We’ll continue to follow this important dossier and hold the next government to account and press forward until this gets done in the name of public safety!

Suburban exclusive: Quebec in process of changing French-only highway signs to pictograms: Fortin

Suburban exclusive: Quebec in process of changing French-only highway signs to pictograms: Fortin
From left, D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum, Hampstead lawyer Harold Staviss, CSL councillor Ruth Kovac and Transport Minister André Fortin at a recent meeting.

Transports Quebec is in the process of changing French-only directive highway signs to pictograms, and will gradually also do so on electronic message boards, provincial Transport Minister André Fortin told The Suburban Saturday.

The changeover is coming about following a 7,000-name National Assembly petition, created by Hampstead lawyer Harold Staviss and Cote St. Luc councillor Ruth Kovac and sponsored by D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum, which sought bilingual traffic signage dealing with health and public safety. Last year, we reported that Transports Quebec committed to more and better pictograms.

Fortin praised the petition, and pointed out that he recently met with Staviss and Kovac along with Birnbaum.

“In terms of using more pictograms and to make sure highway signs are understood by everybody who uses the roads, there’s a couple of things we have developed,” Fortin said. “It’s important to know that we already use more pictograms on Quebec roads than anywhere else in Canada, but obviously we can go further.”

Some examples already addressed include signs indicating thaw following the winter season, and uneven pavement.

“And there are others that are in the course of being replaced,” Fortin said, including some addressed in the petition such as “incident voie droite bloquée” (right lane blocked because of incident) and “risque d’aquaplanage” (risk of hydroplaning). “So to make our roads safer and make sure everyone understands the warnings, we are moving to using more pictograms.”

Another aspect of the petition was electronic message boards warning of accidents and incidents, and providing directives.

“A lot of them are first-generation message boards and they don’t necessarily allow for the use of pictograms,” Fortin explained. “With the newer boards, the technology is better and it enables us to use less words and more pictograms. We’re changing a lot of these message boards right now to use more pictograms.”

The Minister also pointed out that, as the petition addressed, sometimes there are too many words on the message boards, “and we agree with that.

“We certainly don’t want our message boards to be an added distraction to drivers, so we’ve already given a directive to the various regional sections of the ministry  to leave the boards blank if there’s no particular information of value.

Staviss and Kovac were very happy.

“We are ecstatic with the news that the traffic signage and message boards on Quebec roads dealing with health and public safety are in the midst of being replaced by symbols or pictographs,” they said in an e-mail to The Suburban. “It is welcoming to know that such public safety signage as Dégel shall be replaced by pictographs, which most certainly will be more clearly understood by motorists using our Quebec roads.

“As we have said since the launching of our petition in early December 2016, the change has nothing to do with language, it has all to do with everyone’s health and safety,” they added. “Kudos and many thanks to David Birnbaum, the MNA for the riding of D’Arcy McGee who deposited our petition in the Quebec National Assembly on March 14, 2017, to André Fortin, our Minister of Transport and the MNA for the riding of Pontiac for considering and implementing our petition and someone who gets it, as well as to Elisabeth Prass (Bureau Chief and Political Attaché to Birnbaum) and Caroline Des Rosiers (Press Secretary/Attaché responsible for the file and Political Advisor) for their input. It goes without saying that we are excited and overjoyed that our petition really made a difference. It sometimes pays to stand up for what one truly believes will make a positive change.”

Birnbaum praised Staviss and Kovac, and those who signed the petition, “which I was pleased to present in the National Assembly. And, frankly, I commend The Suburban for having kept this issue in the news.

“I’m really encouraged that my colleague, Minister Fortin, has taken concrete and prompt action to respond. We’re talking safety and security, for all Quebecers and for all visitors to the province. André has spelled out specific measures to replace unilingual wording with easily understandable pictograms on key road and traffic signs and on electronic billboards. Furthermore, he’s given instructions to have those changes implemented promptly.”

Birnbaum campaign for the new D’Arcy McGee shaping up

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D’Arcy McGee Member of the National Assembly David Birnbaum welcomed a crowd of supporters to the Gelber Conference Centre earlier this week as part of a fundraiser to kick off his re-election campaign. The location of the event east of the Decarie Boulevard signifies the changing electoral boundary in the upcoming provincial elections. The riding of D’Arcy McGee will expand beyond its traditional territory of Cote Saint-Luc, Hampstead and Snowdon West. Newly included in  the riding will be a substantial area stretching to Cote des Neiges Road bordered by Cote Saint-Catherine to the south and the CP Railway to the north of Vezina.

Speaking with his customary eloquence and grace Birnbaum said that, “there is only one party in the National Assembly that truly represents all Quebecers,” giving examples of how the CAQ and PQ have not stood up for minority communities. The CAQ has indicated its position on immigrants which runs contrary to the belief of so many of Birnbaum’s constituents and, “the PQ still has its Article 1 that speaks of Quebec without Canada.”

 

 

D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum speaks to a group of supporters at the Gelber Conference Centre

Mitch Garber was the special guest speaker.  Chairman of the Board of the world-renowned Cirque du Soleil, Mitch was recently named as Chairman of  a new organization, Invest in Canada, which is focused on streamlining and encouraging investment in Canada. Mitch is also the co-founder of Ceasar’s Entertainment,  a world-leading game development company. Closer to home, Mitch is an old school-mate of mine at Bialik High School and McGill University.

Mitch has never forgotten his roots and always speaks proudly of his community and his love of Montreal, Quebec and Canada.

“Mitch and his wife Anne-Marie are doing so much to bridge the gaps between our linguistic communities, between our Jewish community and all over Quebec, with frankness of warmth and compassion,” said Birnbaum.

Speaking about his passion for business and baseball, Garber took care not to make any partisan pronouncements, although it was clear that his support for David Birnbaum was genuine and sincere.

Guest speaker Mitch Garber throws his enthusiastic support to Birnbaum

 

My wife, Dr. Judy Hagshi and I were pleased to show our support for David. I worked closely with him in my capacity as a City Councillor. David’s keen interest in matters affecting municipal life and provincial matters are evident. If he, and his very able staff of Chris and Elizabeth, could do anything to assist his constituents, they would do so with pleasure.

What’s more I was always impressed in his interest in the larger Jewish community and its public establishments, following in the footsteps of Lawrence Bergman, his predecessor. David was front and centre in speaking up in the National Assembly on Yom Hashoah, as was Bergman.

He also went out of his way, literally, in showing great interest in the advancement of the Jewish General Hospital, where I work in public relations on behalf of the West-Central Montreal health authority. The JGH is located in Mount Royal riding, which never stopped David (or Lawrence Bergman before him) from doing whatever he could to help out on any file, along with his neighbouring MNA, Pierre Arcand. As happenstance would have it, with the redrawing of the electoral map, the JGH will in fact be in the new D’Arcy McGee boundaries come October 1.

 

Dr. Judy Hagshi and Glenn J. Nashen supporting David Birnbaum for re-election

We may not agree on every single issue but that doesn’t diminish David’s strong support of his riding and constituents. And we may not agree with all of his party’s platform but that doesn’t take away from their strong handling of the economy and their clear position on Quebec’s place in a united Canada. As David said, that’s much more than we can say about his competitors.

I look forward to challenging David on issues of importance to me such as English-language rights, pre-hospital emergency medical care, public safety and the promotion of electric vehicles and other green initiatives. I know he will always give me an ear and bring my concerns to the seat of power in Quebec City.

Best of luck to my friend, David Birnbaum.

French-only warning signs dangerous: Letter to the editor

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Published in the Montreal Gazette, March 16, 2018
These French-only warning signs are actually dangerous for highway motorists not proficient in the French language. When approaching these massive electronic billboards and not immediately recognizing ominous words like “cahouteuse” or “aquaplanage” Without mastery of French you wouldn’t know whether to pull off the road or to call 911 for an urgent translation! I’ve made numerous demands for bilingual warnings and their inaction speaks volumes, in any language. They don’t care if you don’t understand.
Glenn J. Nashen
Cote Saint-Luc

N

In reference to:

Opinion: Meaning of Quebec highway signs should be clear to all

A year after National Assembly petition, provincial government still has not responded to safety concerns.

Suburban exclusive: Quebec commits to more, better pictograms on highways

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Suburban exclusive: Quebec commits to more, better pictograms on highways

The Quebec Ministers of Transport and Culture and Communications have committed in writing to placing more and better safety-related pictograms on highways, Côte St. Luc councillor Ruth Kovac told The Suburban Monday.

The commitment by ministers Laurent Lessard and Luc Fortin respectively was the province’s response to a nearly 7,000-name National Assembly petition, created by Hampstead lawyer Harold Staviss and Kovac and sponsored by D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum, calling on Quebec to install bilingual traffic safety signs, as allowed by the province’s language law.

The news of the commitment came during a meeting Kovac had Friday with Birnbaum.

“It took 40 years to get the ministries to acknowledge that our road signs could be better,” Kovac said. “They said, ‘let’s do the best pictograms we can,’ which I have no issue with. First and foremost, it’s always about road safety.

“So if they’re going to make an effort to put up more and better pictograms, so be it. The [ministries] have acknowledged through David that if they don’t have existing pictograms, they will go to a senior engineer to work to make better pictograms, or create one.”

She added that pictograms could be attempted on electronic billboards that warn of safety issues happening at certain times.

Kovac said Quebec’s commitment fell short of allowing English on traffic safety signs if no suitable pictogram exists.

“We just didn’t cross the finish line,” she said. “But for 40 years we’ve been trying, and in the last six months and with David’s presentation, 7,000 people managed to get an affirmation that our road signs can be better. It’s a very positive step in a good direction. Does it fall a little short? Yes. But I know things work incrementally. I see, in a short period of time, reasonableness has prevailed, but they just didn’t put in writing they would go that next step [of adding English to the road signs]…. That’s still a question mark. I think we’re 99 percent there.”

Kovac thinks Quebec did not go the extra step of committing to add English if no pictograms exist, to avoid reopening the language debate, even though the law allows English on those signs.

The councillor added that she and Staviss will be taking photographs of signs they have complained about over time, and will point out whether or not they have been changed.

“Now we’ll be sign inspectors for free!” she joked. “I also have visitors coming from the U.S. in a couple of weeks, and I will ask them to take pictures or note any signs that they really don’t understand.

‘Did we make progress? Am I pleased? Yes.”

Birnbaum commended Staviss and Kovac for their efforts, the community for its response on the petition as well as The Suburban for focusing on the issue.

“Their petition hasn’t been a dead letter,” the MNA said. “They got some meaningful progress. The directive obviously acknowledges that Harold and Ruth got it right — the law is clear on what’s possible. And the directive that has been given notes that there are some situations where pictograms can be used and are not being used right now, and the directive suggests that be changed.”

Birnbaum also confirmed that the directive also says that when a pictogram doesn’t exist at the moment, regional authorities are asked to communicate with the operations department of the Transport ministry “to try and develop one.

“It’s a start,” the MNA said.

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